US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker, part of ICNL’s US Program, follows initiatives at the state and federal level since November 2016 that restrict the right to peaceful assembly. For information about our methodology, click here.

40 states have
considered
128 bills
24 enacted 2 enacted with
improvements
27 pending 75 defeated or
expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Jun. 26, 2020 (Mississippi), Jun. 14, 2020 (Louisiana, Massachusetts), Jun. 8, 2020 (New York)
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US Federal

DOT Legislative Proposal: New federal criminal penalties for protests near pipelines

In its proposed congressional reauthorization of pipeline safety programs, the Department of Transportation included expanded criminal penalties that could be applied to protests near gas and oil pipelines. The proposal would newly criminalize under federal law "vandalizing, tampering with, impeding the operation of, disrupting the operation of, or inhibiting the operation of" a pipeline or a pipeline construction site. The offense would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and/or a steep fine: up to $250,000 for an individual, or $500,000 for an organization. Any "attempt" or "conspiracy" to commit the offense would likewise be subject to a 20-year prison sentence. Accordingly, individuals as well as organizations that participate in a protest or engage in the planning of a protest deemed to "inhibit" a pipeline construction site could face lengthy prison sentences and/or steep fines. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Jun 2019.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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Alabama

SB 45: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Would amend existing state law to create new criminal penalties for conduct that may occur in the course of peaceful protests near oil or gas pipelines and other infrastructure facilities. Alabama already criminalizes trespass onto “critical infrastructure,” pursuant to law passed in 2016. The bill would expand the law's definition of “critical infrastructure” to include "pipelines," such that a person who trespasses onto pipeline property could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by one year in jail and a $6,000 fine. The bill would also create a new felony offense for any person who "injures," "interrupts or interferes with" critical infrastructure while trespassing. Such an act would be a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $15,000. HB 36 has similar provisions in the House and was introduced January 23, 2020. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 4 Feb 2020; Approved by Senate 12 March 2020

Issue(s): infrastructure, trespass

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Alaska

HB 295: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters at the University of Alaska. The bill requires the University to adopt a policy prohibiting and subjecting to sanction any “protests or demonstrations that materially and substantially infringe on the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity.” Additionally, the bill requires administrators to suspend for at least one year or expel any student who is twice found “to have infringed on the expressive rights of another,” such as through a protest of a campus speaker. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 24 Feb 2020.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Illinois

HB 2280: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. Like HB 2939, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, HB 2280 requires public universities and community colleges to adopt a policy prohibiting and subjecting to sanction any “protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity” on campus. Additionally, the bill requires administrators to suspend for at least one year or expel any student who is twice “found responsible for infringing on the expressive rights of others,” such as through a protest of a campus speaker. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Feb 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Illinois

HB 1633: New penalties for protests near critical infrastructure

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure that involve trespassing onto infrastructure property. Under the bill, knowingly trespassing to a critical infrastructure facility is a Class 4 felony, punishable by $1,000 and 3 years in prison. Aggravated criminal trespass to a critical infrastructure facility--defined as trespass with intent to vandalize, deface, or tamper with the facility--is a Class 3 felony punishable by $10,000 and 10 years in prison. The bill would also create a broadly-defined new offense, “criminal damage to a critical infrastructure facility,” which includes knowingly vandalizing, defacing, or tampering with critical infrastructure and does not require actual damage. The offense is a Class 1 felony, punishable by $100,000 and 15 years in prison. An individual convicted of any of the offenses is also civilly liable for money damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees to the owner of the property, for any damage sustained. The bill newly defines “critical infrastructure facility” under Illinois law to include a range of oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities that are fenced off or posted. As introduced, the bill also provided that an organization found to have conspired with an individual to commit any of above offenses would be liable for a fine of at least ten times the minimum fine authorized for the individual, however these provisions were removed by an amendment. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 31 Jan 2019; Approved by House 11 April 2019

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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Iowa

SB 286: Heightened penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would prohibit persons from standing on Iowa highways with the intention of blocking traffic. The bill, which sponsors say is designed to target disruptive highway protests, provides that a person "shall not loiter, or place or cause to be placed any obstruction" on a highway "with the intention of blocking the normal and reasonable movement of motor vehicle traffic." Individuals who do so may be charged with a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,875 fine. A second offense is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years' imprisonment and a $6,250 fine; a third offense is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine. The bill was originally introduced in March 2017 as SF 426. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Mar 2017; reintroduced 18 February 2019

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

HB 1428: New penalties for protests that block roads

Would penalize “any person who intentionally blocks or prevents access to a public roadway or highway while protesting with the express purpose of preventing passage of others.” Under the bill, anyone who intentionally blocked a public road in the course of a protest could be sentenced to up to ten years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

HB 3284: New criminal liability for deaths during protests

Would create the new criminal offense of “manslaughter caused by reckless disregard of life while protesting or blocking highway or roadway access.” The offense would be added to the definition of “manslaughter” under Massachusetts law. Accordingly, if organizers led a protest onto a road and a protester was hit by a car, e.g., the organizers could potentially be held liable for manslaughter under the bill. The offense would be punishable by up to twenty years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

S 1036: Heightened penalties for blocking traffic

Would penalize anyone who obstructs or attempts to obstruct "the normal movement of traffic, commerce, or any emergency medical services on a limited access or express state highway" in a manner that is dangerous to the general public. Under the bill, whoever commits this act could be punished up to 10 years in jail. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

HB 1588: Prohibition on masked demonstrations

Would compel the immediate dispersal of a demonstration or other assembly of people wearing masks or other disguises. The bill provides that if a group of five or more individuals who are "masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration" assemble together, authorities should command them to disperse. If the assembly does not immediately disperse, they are deemed a riot or unlawful assembly and the authorities can compel anyone present to help "suppress" the assembly and arrest those participating. The bill makes no exception for religious or festive attire. Nor does it require any malicious intent by those assembling or conduct beyond wearing masks and assembling in a group. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): face coverings, riot

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Michigan

HB 4436: New limits on campus protests

Would impose new limits on protests at public colleges and universities. The bill would require all public institutions of higher education to adopt a policy prohibiting protests and demonstrations that “substantially and materially infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity,” and make protesters involved in such assemblies "subject to sanction." As a result, protests in public areas of campus that, for instance, made it difficult to hear a speech, would be banned and its participants liable to penalties. The policy would apply not only to students and faculty but any other person “lawfully present on campus.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Apr 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Minnesota

HF 3668: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Would create new civil and criminal liability for protesters on infrastructure property as well as for any organization or entity that supports them. The bill would make someone who is convicted of or merely arrested for trespassing on property containing a critical public service facility, utility, or pipeline, civilly liable for any property damage arising out of the trespass. Under the bill, a person “or entity” that “recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with” someone who is convicted of or arrested for trespassing is also civilly liable for damages. The bill creates criminal liability for anyone who "intentionally recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with” someone to trespass, as well: If the person or entity fails to make a “reasonable effort” to prevent the trespass, and the offense is committed, they are guilty of a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. The broad language used in the vicarious liability provisions could be construed to include aiding a protester by providing them with water or medical assistance. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 24 Feb 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Minnesota

HF 2966: New Penalties for Protests Near Oil and Gas Pipelines

Would create new civil and criminal liability for protesters on infrastructure property as well as civil liability for any organization or entity that supports them. The bill would make someone who trespasses on property containing a critical public service facility, utility, or pipeline liable for any damages to property that they commit while trespassing. Any person or entity that “knowingly recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, [or] conspires with” someone who trespasses or causes damage to property could be held “jointly and severably liable.” If the person trespasses with intent "to significantly impede or inhibit operation" of a covered facility, utility, or pipeline they are guilty of a felony and may be subject to three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine. The phrase "significantly impede or inhibit" could be construed to encompass peaceful protests that block access to infrastructure, which under Minnesota law is broadly defined to include bus stations and parts of bridges. The broad language used in the joint and severable liability provision could be construed to include aiding a protester by providing them with water or medical assistance. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 31 Jan 2020.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Minnesota

SF 2011: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Would create new potential penalties for protests near pipelines, utilities, and "critical public service facilities." The bill criminalizes trespass onto such properties, including those under construction, as a gross misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. Trespass “with the intent to disrupt the operation or provision of services” by the pipeline or utility, is a felony under the bill, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The bill also newly provides that a court may order anyone convicted of the above offenses to pay for “the costs and expenses resulting from the crime.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 4 Mar 2019.

Issue(s): damage costs, infrastructure, security costs, trespass

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New Jersey

AB 3760: Expanded definition of "riot"

Would expand the definition of "riot" to apply to individuals in a group whose disorderly conduct results in property damage. Under the bill, anyone who participates in “disorderly conduct” in a group of four or more may be charged with rioting, if anyone in the group causes any damage to property or other monetary loss. “Disorderly conduct” is broadly defined under New Jersey law, to include any “tumultuous behavior” that causes public annoyance—even swearing loudly. If the damage caused by anyone in the group costs $2,000 or more, anyone in the group can be charged with a third-degree crime, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $15,000. According to the bill, individuals convicted under the riot provisions related to property damage must also reimburse the property owner or State of New Jersey for the damages or loss incurred. The same bill was initially introduced in May 2017 as AB 4777, and again in 2018 as AB 2853. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 6 Mar 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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New Jersey

A 5731: Mandatory penalties for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. The bill requires all public institutions of higher education to adopt a policy that bars members of the campus community from engaging in conduct that “materially and substantially disrupts another person’s expressive activity or infringes on the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity.” Under the required policy, any member of the campus community that has twice materially and substantially disrupted the expressive rights of others--such as by protesting a controversial speaker--must be given a minimum punishment of a one-term suspension. If a lesser punishment is imposed, the institution has to submit an explanation in writing to the institution’s Committee on Free Expression. The bill also requires that “a range of disciplinary sanctions” be imposed for anyone under the jurisdiction of the institution who materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 23 Aug 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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New York

A 10603: Heightened penalties for “riot” and “incitement to riot” by non-residents

Would heighten the penalties for “riot” and “incitement to riot” for defendants who are not New York residents, by creating two new criminal offenses. Under the bill, a non-resident who either commits “riot in the second degree” or “incitement to riot” is guilty of “travel to riot in the second degree,” a Class E felony. Notably, New York law broadly defines “riot in the second degree” to include “tumultuous and violent conduct” with four or more people that “intentionally or recklessly… creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.” A person is guilty of “incitement to riot” under New York law if he or she “urges” ten or more people “to engage in tumultuous and violent conduct of a kind likely to create public alarm.” The bill creates an additional Class D felony for non-residents who commit first-degree riot. The bill was proposed after widespread protests in New York City following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 5 Jun 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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Ohio

HB 362: New penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would broadly prohibit the wearing of masks or other disguises in certain circumstances during protests. Like HB 423, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, the bill criminalizes the wearing of a mask or disguise to intentionally "obstruct the execution of the law," "to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt" a person who is performing a legal duty, or to prevent a person from exercising rights granted to them by the Constitution or laws of Ohio (such as the right to assemble). Under the bill, commission of "masked intimidation" as defined by any of the above would be a first degree misdemeanor, subject to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to its sponsors, the bill originated out of concerns about violent confrontations caused by masked protesters. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Oct 2019.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Ohio

SB 33: New penalties for protests near critical infrastructure

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure by expanding the definitions of "criminal trespass" and "criminal mischief." Like SB 250, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, SB 33 provides that entering and remaining on marked or fenced-off property that contains a "critical infrastructure facility" is criminal trespass and a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Doing so with the purpose of "tampering with" the facility would constitute aggravated trespass, a third degree felony--punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Knowingly, "improperly tampering" with the facility would constitute "criminal mischief," likewise a third degree felony. "Critical infrastructure facility" is expansively defined to encompass oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities among many others. The bill also imposes fines on organizations found guilty of "complicity" in the trespass or mischief offenses, in the amount of ten times the maximum fine that can be imposed on an individual. Ohio law defines "complicity" to include soliciting, procuring, aiding, abetting, or conspiring with another to commit an offense. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Feb 2019; Approved by Senate 1 May 2019

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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Oklahoma

SB 592: Steep fee for protesting at the state capitol

Would require any group of 100 or more people that engage in a protest at the Oklahoma capitol building to post a $50,000 bond to the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority "to offset the cost of additional security, cleanup and repairs." The bill was prefiled and is scheduled to be introduced on February 4, 2019, when the state's legislative session begins. The bill follows the walkout and multi-day protest by thousands of Oklahoma's teachers at the capitol in April 2018. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 18 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): damage costs, security costs, strikes

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Pennsylvania

SB 887: New penalties for protests near "critical infrastructure"

Would heighten potential penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other critical infrastructure by creating a new offense of "critical infrastructure facility trespass.” According to the bill, entering or merely attempting to enter property containing a critical infrastructure facility, without permission of the property owner, would be a third degree felony punishable by up to one year in prison; remaining at the facility after being ordered to leave would be a second degree felony, likewise punishable by up to one year in prison. Entering a critical infrastructure facility with the intent to “damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment or impede or inhibit operations of the facility,” would be a second degree felony punishable by imprisonment for up to one year. It would also be a second degree felony, subject to one year’s imprisonment, to “conspire[] with another person to commit” any of the above offences. An individual who commits any of the offenses a second time would face penalties of the next felony degree. The law newly defines “critical infrastructure facility” under Pennsylvania law to include a broad range of oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities, such as gas and oil pipelines “buried or above ground.” The definition of “critical infrastructure facility” applies to facilities “constructed or under construction,” and includes “equipment and machinery, regardless of whether stored on location or at a storage yard, to the extent that it is used to construct a critical infrastructure facility.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 7 Oct 2019.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Pennsylvania

SB 323: Charging protesters for the costs of responding to a protest

Would make individual protesters potentially liable for “public safety response costs” incurred by the state or a political subdivision during a protest or demonstration. Like SB 176, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, the bill allows local authorities to seek restitution from protesters convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the course of a protest or demonstration, in order to pay for the costs of responding to the event. Such costs could include outlays for police, fire department, and medical services, as well as “related legal, administrative, and court expenses.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Feb 2019.

Issue(s): security costs

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Rhode Island

H 7543: New Penalties for Protesters Who Conceal Their Identity

Would make it unlawful for a person to wear protective equipment, such as a "gas mask", "kneepads", "riot helmets", "face visors", or "vests" during a demonstration, rally, or parade. It also bans wearing "a mask or disguise with the specific intent to intimidate or threaten another person". A violation of the Act would be punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1000 fine. The broad language in the Act could be used to ban a range of masks and equipment that could be part of the expressive component of a demonstration. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Feb 2020.

Issue(s): face coverings

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South Carolina

HB 5045: New penalties for non-student protesters on school and college campuses

Would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine, for a person who is not a student to “willfully interfere with, disrupt, or disturb the normal operations of a school or college” by entering the grounds of an educational institution without permission; being “loud or boisterous” after being instructed not to be; refusing to vacate a building, facility, or grounds of a public or private education facility after being directed to do so; engaging in “sitting, kneeling, lying down, or inclining” so as to obstruct an ingress after being told not to; or disrupting teaching or engaging in conduct that disturbs the peace at an educational institution or grounds adjacent to it. The bill would not only cover members of the public, but also faculty, staff, and affiliates of the educational institution who are not students. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 29 Jan 2020.

Issue(s): campus speech

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South Carolina

SB 33: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. The bill requires public universities and community colleges to adopt a policy prohibiting and subjecting to sanction any “[p]rotests and demonstrations that materially and substantially infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity” on campus. Additionally, the bill requires administrators to suspend for at least one year or expel any student who is twice “found responsible for infringing on the expressive rights of others,” such as through a protest of a campus speaker. The bill also waives South Carolina's immunity from federal lawsuits related to the law, such that a speaker or student group who feels the law is insufficiently enforced could sue the state and/or university in federal or state court. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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South Dakota

HB 1288: New Powers to Suspend State Agency Rules during Protests

Would add “protests” and “disorderly conduct” to a list of disasters that could allow the Governor to suspend the rules of a state agency. Under the bill, the Governor could suspend the rules of any state agency if there is an emergency beyond local government capacity and the provisions of the rule would in “any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action” in managing protests or disorderly conduct. In South Dakota, “disorderly conduct” includes “making unreasonable noise” or obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic. This change would make it easier for the Governor to suspend state agency rules in response to protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 6 Feb 2020.

Issue(s): state of emergency, traffic interference

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Tennessee

SB 1750: New penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would penalize protesters who wear masks or other face coverings. As introduced, the bill would make it a criminal offense for a person to wear a mask, hood, or device that covers a portion of their face and intentionally conceals their identity, on public property or private property without the owner’s permission. The bill does not require that the person be committing some other unlawful act while concealing their identity. The offense would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The original version of the bill includes four exemptions: “traditional holiday costumes;” “lawfully engag[ing] in a trade, profession, occupation or sporting activity” that requires a mask, hood, or other device; theatrical productions, parades, and masquerade balls; and gas masks. Other expressive, First Amendment activity is not explicitly exempted. The bill was withdrawn the day after it was introduced. A co-sponsor of the bill said that it was "intended to target protesters and demonstrators who might commit crimes,” and that they would file a “clarified version" of the bill soon. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Jan 2020.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Wisconsin

AB 617: New penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would make it a crime to wear a mask to conceal one's identity when an individual is on a sidewalk, walkway, bike path, highway, or public property. It also makes it a crime to be masked while participating in a "meeting or demonstration" on private property without the permission of the property owner. There are exceptions for wearing a mask for religious beliefs, a holiday costume, protecting oneself from the elements, or because it is part of one's occupation. However, there is no exception for wearing a mask during a demonstration. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 9 months in jail or a $10,000 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 19 Nov 2019.

Issue(s): face coverings

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For more information about the Tracker, contact Elly Page at EPage@icnl.org.